When choosing a palm tree, one of the most important elements of keeping your tree healthy is one of the most overlooked. Most people check the common things like zone tolerance, water and light requirements, size and cost. While these are obviously important in keeping your palm healthy, many people forget that palms also need to be fertilized for the best results.
Knowing how to fertilize palm trees can be tricky as there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Here are a few examples of questions you may be asking yourself…
- What is the best fertilizer for palm trees?
- Should I use fertilizer spikes?
- How often should I fertilize?
- Can too much fertilizer kill a palm tree?
Over the next several paragraphs I hope to shed a little more light on not only how to properly fertilize a palm tree, but being able to spot nutrient deficiencies ahead of time so proper care can be taken.
Why Do I Need To Fertilize Palm Trees?
Much like people need a healthy diet to operate efficiently, palm trees need proper nutrients to thrive as well.
Due to the varying soil types around our globe, some soils can be void of critical nutrients that can make a huge difference in the overall appearance and health of the palm. Being able to recognize these deficiencies early on can not only give you an idea of what the palm needs, but you will also be able to thwart off any long term damage from nutrient neglect.
One of the most common problems in palm trees is potassium deficiency. This one in particular is easy to spot since the fronds will start showing yellowish spotting on older fronds and will eventually start spreading to newer fronds. If not properly addressed, death could eventually follow. Some other nutrients that palms will need include manganese, iron and magnesium.
How Can I Tell If My Palm Needs Fertilizing?
Luckily, there are obvious ways to tell if your palm is suffering from a particular deficiency. Here is a list of the three most common deficiencies and how to tell if your palm may be suffering from them.
Manganese deficiency is evident in new growth and can cause yellowing fronds, reduced leaf size and if not treated properly, the palm may die.
Potassium deficiency targets old growth and will develop yellowing spots on the fronds. If the condition is severe enough, new fronds can be affected. Like manganese deficiency, if the palm is left untreated, the palm may die. Treating the palm for potassium deficiency will cause magnesium deficiency, so make sure that both of these nutrients are part of your fertilizing formula.
Magnesium deficiency affects older growth causing yellowing at the tips of the leaves while the center remains green. It affects most species of palms and will need to be used together with potassium to balance out any loss of magnesium.
Slow Release vs. Quick Release Formula
Not all fertilizer will be ideal for fertilizing palm trees. Not using the right formula or strength of fertilizer, such as a quick release lawn fertilizer, can severely damage and even kill the palm.
It’s always best to use a slow release fertilizer a couple of times a year during the spring and summer months to ensure the palm will keep receiving proper nutrients during the growing season. In areas where temperatures remain mild year round, fertilizing a few times throughout the year will be necessary since the palm will be putting out new growth on a regular basis.
You will also want to pick a fertilizer with a balanced ratio of nutrients. Having too much or too little of vital nutrients can do more harm than good. If you are unsure of how much fertilizer to use, it is better to underfertilize as overfertilizing can cause more problems. So, how do you know which nutrients to look for and how much to use?
When choosing a fertilizer, you will want to go with a 3:1:3 ratio of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Keep in mind that this 3:1:3 ratio is a guide and could be listed differently, such as 12:4:12 or 15:5:15, however the ratio remains the same. Many of these fertilizers include micro nutrients, such as manganese, to assist in new growth and aid in the overall health of the palm.
You will also see slightly different ratios with higher or lower numbers of nitrogen or potassium that are also effective, such as a 2:1:2 or 3:1:2, but sticking as close to the 3:1:3 ratio will give you the best balance of nutrients.
One thing I would like to mention is that once you find a method or nutrient ratio that works for you, STICK WITH IT! Some species of palms have slightly different nutrient needs depending on their ideal soil and growing conditions, so keep using what works!
For a more hands-off approach, fertilizer spikes have grown in popularity for their quality and ease of use.
While a more convenient method, using spikes can be a challenge since they are only able to cover a limited area of the root system.
In places such as Florida this can be a challenge since the abundance of sandy soil combined with regular rainfall can flush the nutrients away from the root system in a short amount of time. In these conditions, using more spikes or using granular fertilizer instead would work best for better coverage.
However, in most conditions fertilizer spikes are an excellent choice since all of the nutrients are self contained in the spike, leaving no mess to clean up afterward! This can be a huge time saver for folks that want healthy looking palms, but don’t have the time or space to use granular fertilizer.
Below is a brief video I came across demonstrating how to easily and properly insert fertilizer spikes…
Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of using fertilizer spikes:
- Convenient and compact. Great for people that don’t have a lot of room to store multiple bags of fertilizer.
- Spikes are already measured with the proper nutrient balance for optimum health of the palm.
- Saves time with having to spread around granular fertilizer. Just spike it and forget it!
- Fertilizer spikes are time released causing less chance of over or under fertilization.
- More expensive than granular fertilizer.
- Provide nutrients to only a limited area of the root system, so larger trees will require more spikes.
- Spikes are fragile and can break easily so special care is needed, especially when installing.
The Wrap Up (and some general tips)
Fertilizing palm trees can be quite simple and painless. It’s just a matter of taking the time to correctly apply the nutrients a couple of times a year.
If kept fed on a regular basis, palms will not only look good in your landscape, but can add visual and monetary value to your property.
Here are some general tips on how to apply fertilizer to your palm trees…
- For large trees, apply fertilizer approximately 12-18 inches away from the trunk and spread evenly out to the tips of the fronds, also known as the tree’s “drip line”.
- Never apply fertilizer directly on the palm.
- When shopping for palm fertilizer, look for an NPK ratio of 3:1:3, 2:1:2 or similar to ensure proper, balanced nutrients.
- Always water soil before and after fertilizing to allow nutrients to sink into the root system.
- Wait approximately 6 weeks or so after transplanting a palm before feeding it, so the roots will have time to establish and to reduce the risk of shock.
- Always read the directions for the specific fertilizer you plan to use to ensure the best results.
- Consider organic alternatives such as blood meal or fish emulsion.
- Once you find a formula balance that works for you…stick with it!
While the process of figuring out which fertilizers work best for palm trees can be a little daunting, once you know what nutrients are required, the ratios of the nutrients used and how to properly apply them, fertilizing palm trees is actually quite simple and not as time consuming as one might imagine.